Your Name: Liz Forkin Bohannon
Business Name: Sseko Designs, an ethical fashion brand
Type of Business: Social Enterprise
Business Location: Kampala, Uganda
Reason for starting
Sseko is somewhat of an accidental result of blind determination. While living in Uganda (I moved there to pursue journalism) I met a group of incredibly talented and ambitious young women who needed economic opportunity in order to continue on to university and pursue their dreams. I was in a certain place at a specific moment in time and I soon realized that somehow the story of these women would become a part of my story. Almost everything about Sseko was born from necessity. We needed to generate income. We had to do something that 18 year old girls could be a part of for a season and then move on to pursue their goals. We had to create something out of the limited materials available in the East African region. After several other ideas (including a chicken farm!) I was reminded of a pair of funky, strappy sandals I had made a few years earlier. I spent a few weeks scouring the country for the materials we needed and trying to learn everything I could about making footwear. I hired three young women and several weeks later, under a mango tree, Sseko Designs was born! We now have global distribution, employ over 50 women in East Africa and have enable 36 incredible young scholars to continue on to college and become leaders in their country.
How do you define success?
Our success is tied directly to our mission to Educate & Empower women. Our goal is for every woman at Sseko to develop into a stronger and more whole version of herself. Through employment and education, we’re able to provide a unique platform for that development. In addition to being driven by our community goals, we’re passionate about our products. We strive to make products with incredible craftsmanship and design that invite customers to be a part of the Sseko story through exquisitely crafted goods that they’re proud to own.
Our first Sseko class consisted of three women, Rebecca, Mary and Mercy. Since then, Sseko has sent 36 women to college and they are now pursuing various degrees from business to law to social work. This has been our biggest success – giving women the opportunity to go to college and pursue their dreams. Sseko has grown to employ more than 50 women in Uganda giving them a sense of worth, dignity, and value. In the past four years, we’ve been recognized for our innovative development and business model (including organizations such as Bloomberg Businessweek that named Sseko one of the top five social enterprises in America) and continue to promote our belief that business can and should make the world a better place.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
The greatest challenge we face are the existing perceptions of Africa, specifically in America. We’re passionate about telling a new story about Africa. This is a story of hope, beauty and success. We have so much to learn from our friends in Africa and so much room to create beautiful, dignifying, mutually beneficial partnerships. Everything that we do at Sseko, from our photography to our products, is contributing to this mission and helping us overcome that challenge.
Who is your most important role model?
My greatest role models are the women in Uganda I have the privilege of working alongside, like Auntie Florence, Agnes and Josephine. These are women that have shown tremendous perseverance, courage and hope in the face of unspeakable challenges. They challenge me to take risks and push the bounds of my creativity and perseverance.